Less than two months from now, Dayton voters will decide whether the city should decriminalize small amounts of pot.
But whatever happens at the polls, the city of Dayton can’t change state marijuana laws, leaving police with the option to bring charges for violating state code.
Most people busted for minor pot possession in Dayton are charged under state law, according to a Dayton Daily News investigation.
But Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said if voters say yes to decriminalization, city leadership will talk with and give policy direction to the police chief, law director and city manager.
“It would be my recommendation that we don’t cite under state law, if this passes,” she said. “How we work that out would be after the vote.”
People caught with marijuana or hashish in the city of Dayton can be charged for violating city or state laws.
Both city and state law says possessing less than 100 grams of pot is a minor misdemeanor offense, punishable by a $150 fine.
If Dayton residents vote yes for decriminalization on Nov. 6, the city commission will eliminate the fine and will amend some other pot offenses to make them minor misdemeanors that carry no financial penalties.
But how things actually would change isn’t entirely clear, because police usually charge people caught with pot in Dayton under state code.
Since Jan. 1, 2017, there have been about 1,725 minor misdemeanor pot possession cases filed in Dayton Municipal Court, according to court data.
About 1,363 of the cases were charged under Ohio Revised Code. About 362 cases cited violations of city of Dayton code.
Dayton police charge people caught with small amounts of weed under the state code 80 percent of the time, court data show.
Whaley says she would like to see police charge minor pot possession offenses under city code in most cases, if voters support decriminalization.
She said sometimes there may be valid reasons why police cite people under state code. But, she said, she would push the city to adopt policies that are “in the spirit” of decriminalization, if that’s what voters want.
Research suggests that pot charges and arrests decline after decriminalization.
Decriminalization of cannabis in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont and Maryland resulted in large decreases in cannabis possession arrests for youths and adults, according to research published in the September issue of the International Journal of Drug Policy.
Michael Vuolo, an associate professor of sociology at The Ohio State University, was one of the authors, along with principal investigator Richard Grucza, professor of psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis.
Decriminalization seeks to reduce the chances that people will get caught up in the criminal justice system for simple marijuana possession, and the research indicates such policies are accomplishing that goal, Vuolo said.
“On average, the arrest rate for both youth and adults decreases by about 75 percent,” he said.
Vuolo said other research he conducted shows that even a misdemeanor charge on a person’s record can hurt employment prospects.
Dayton is not the first Ohio community to consider decriminalization measures.
Toledo voters in 2015 overwhelmingly approved eliminating all jail time and fines for marijuana violations, and removing other penalties.
Following the election, Toledo Police Chief George Kral put out a notice to officers saying they should keep in mind that decriminalization was the will of people.
Kral urged officers to use discretion when charging pot offenses.
Police can and still do charge people caught with marijuana under the Ohio Revised Code, but minor pot possession is not a major priority and officers use their discretion, said Toledo police Lt. Kevan Toney.
Between 2015 and 2017, Toledo Municipal Court saw a 17 percent percent decline in criminal cases, court data show.
This newspaper was unable to determine if there was a decrease in marijuana-related cases. Charges under Ohio Revised Code increased, but data about charges under city code was not immediately available. Police said they stopped charging under municipal code.
Pittsburgh, Pa., took steps to decriminalize marijuana in 2015, and pot-possession arrests declined the following year. But the Pittsburgh City Paper reports that arrests jumped significantly in 2017.
Marijuana-reform advocates weren’t sure what led to the increase, but some believed “some actions left the door open for officers to ignore the ordinance …”
If voters approve decriminalization, the city will consider the policy direction from elected leadership and decide the most appropriate way to amend the code, said Barbara Doseck, Dayton’s law director.
“We can’t make a decision on what that looks like at this point in time because we don’t know if it’s going to be successful in November,” she said.